Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Shawn Atleo stepped down as head of the Assembly of First Nations yesterday, a victim of the norovirus which has been ravaging North America's population. His absence, we were told, will be "brief." But, if he read Michael Harris' column yesterday, Atleo might consider extending his leave. Harris wrote that he co-operated in a classic Harper strategy -- divide and conquer:

First, he destroyed the official unity of his organization. That is a big gift to the PM, a master of the Rovian game of divide-and-conquer politics. Thanks to Atleo, it will be much easier for Harper to pull the wings off the troublesome new pest that took over Ottawa last week: authentic native pride.

Second, it is just a matter of time before Atleo is ostracized by his own community for abandoning the wishes of his chiefs, and the Idle No More movement that has inspired them. Never again will Atleo be trusted with a mandate to negotiate anything, the possible exception being his severance package as national chief.

Finally, Atleo legitimized the federal government’s treatment of Chief Theresa Spence. He did that by breaking with the chiefs who supported her and agreeing to a meeting without Spence, key chiefs, and the Governor-General. And he made this accommodation after the government smeared Chief Spence with a strategic audit leak on Attawapiskat the day before the “big” meeting. The Harper government, with Atleo in tow, had its Marie-Antoinette moment on Friday: “Let them eat fish broth.”

It was not a ringing endorsement of Atleo's leadership. After all, Atleo came away from the meeting with nothing -- except a promise to hold more meetings. But there is a rising native generation who are very unhappy:

They’ve had it with the runaround on their constitutional rights. They know that Bill C-45 is an existential issue for their community, a power grab by the Harper government, and they will not easily be led by a man who wouldn’t go to the wall to fight that.

So Theresa Spence continues her hunger strike. And Stephen Harper has dodged a bullet -- for now:

There is only one short-term winner in this mess: the prime minister. If throwing the apple of discord were an Olympic event, Stephen Harper would be a lock for gold. He has divided the opposition — again.

We're headed for an Aboriginal Spring, which could get very uncomfortable. And Mr. Atleo has been snookered.


kirbycairo said...

Telling it like it is Owen. Regardless of his intentions, Atleo has failed utter to capitalize on the growing awareness and discontent and he has played right into Harper's hand. Harper's entire strategy (like most of the politicians in this country including Mulcair) is to stall and placate, draw things out forever until genocide of the Indigenous peoples is complete and the land and water is all in the hands of the oil companies.

Owen Gray said...

My hunch, Kirby, is that the young are going to teach their elders a lesson: The only way to deal with bully is to stand up to him.

Danneau said...

Read JR Saul's A Fair Country a few years back: we have a heavy FN presence hereabouts, with a plethora of constructive projects both launched and in the works, some of it trad culture and some of it mainline business. The perception of FN is slowly changing as the FN themselves gain confidence and experience. What really stood out in Saul's book, and what I see here, is an ability to operate in the midst of unresolved conflict and complexity, so I don't necessarily agree that Atleo's dealings with the PM can be labelled a failure, or that the PM has really won anything other than a bit more time to stew in his own juices. The AFN, as an institution, may have staked out some dicey territory, but that doesn't mean that the leaders can't follow the followers as the movement continues to define itself (and undefine and redefine itself). There is much to ponder and watch here and I thank you for your thoughtful input on this, and other, questions.

Owen Gray said...

Ralston Saul's great gift, Danneau, is his ability to put the pieces together and explain how Canada really works.

What he did in A Fair Country was to give the First Nations their rightful due. The original bargain was not just between French and English settlers.

That bargain depended on their acceptance by the people who were here first, and who bequeathed to us their particular brand of problem solving.

We tend to forget that we owe our continued existence to the aboriginal way of doing things. And, if we're wise, we'll follow that model now.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

What interested me about Saul's book is that from the Victorian era up until the 50's or so, Canada largely abandoned the values it learned from the native community, over the first three hundred years. It is period Canada acted more like Europe or the US. It culminated in the cultural genocide policies to make Natives disappear and become White. This was being accomplished through three generations going through residential schools denying their culture. Right up to Trudeau this was a policy,. Trudeau seemed to reverse this policy and the Constitutions guaranteed First Nations a permanent unique place in Canada. Canada had begun since the 50's to reaffirm native values it learned through the close association with natives in the fur trade and the lessons they taught us on how to live and be in this country. Even during the settlement era natives were recognized as a class above the settlers because of the knowledge of the land. He illustrates this with the fact that if a settler wanted influence in a territory he could gain status by marrying the daughter of a chief or be made a member of a tribe. Our multiculturalism is related to many First Nation's traditional values such as taking others into the tribe, eating from a common bowl, respecting one another and each others traditions, problems solving through negotiation, treaties, etc.
How differently did Canada contrast with the US in this. They cleared the land of the native people to make way for settlement. This was a long slow genocide, which I recently read Hitler admired as a way he would emulate to clear Russia for German settlement of his empire. Canada has not been perfect in dealing with First Nations, needless to say, or there would be no Idle No More movement, but we continue to change and make amends for past failings with negotiated land claims and honouring treaties. We need to hope we eventually get it right.

Anonymous said...

You would think Atleo, would know all about Harper's dirty tactics? Good grief, haven't we seen enough of those dirty tactics, dirty politics?

All Atleo and those other Chiefs succeeded in doing, is prolong Chief Spence's hunger strike. They blew it, big time. The F.N. are always angry because, they are shown no respect by Harper. Where was their respect for Chief Spence? This was her call, not Atleo's and the other Chiefs. However, they butted in and screwed it up.

Owen Gray said...

Our dealings with the First Nations are not above criticism. But, as you point out, only recently have we returned to some of our original insights, Philip.

Unfortunately, under Mr. Harper -- who seems incapable of nuance -- we have retreated into the world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He has a hard time dealing with an opinion that is different than his own.

Owen Gray said...

It's not easy to get such a diverse group to agree on a common strategy, Anon. Mr. Atleo does not have an easy job.

Nonetheless, by now he should know who he is dealing with -- and he should know that Harper will throw him under the bus, if and when it suits his purposes.

the salamander said...

Thanks for the excellent update & links.

I thought the Harris article was blunt & accurate. Comments to your blog are interesting & invigorating (as always) The photo op image you've included is all the damn meeting was ever about.. a meeting to havsum neat new Stevie being nice to the redskins pics and spout about more meetings in the future..

As a wonderful n bright woman I love, tends to say re setups like this .. 'you're not a victim, you're a volunteer' ..

I apologize for harping on the same same tune... but I will say it again. There is only question Mr Harper or any of his runaway government and Conservative Party needs to answer for Canada, Canadians and The First Nations.

Its heavy, its impending, its obvious.. especially with an unexplained electoral fraud and campaign of vote suppression by his government and political party. There's an implied or actual aspect of treason involved as well. Stephen Harper wants to extinguish any First Nations treaties.. and so does his wonderful associate Tom Flanagan among others. They could not be more clear about this. This is what the so-called Omnibus 'budgets' are all about.. as well as eliminating any legislation protecting environment, habitat, or creatures.

The question is - Will he engage or order Canadian Forces, the RCMP, CSIS, the courts or other persons to attack, attempt to subdue or remove or arrest First Nations people or other Canadian people from the boreal forest, the coasts, the prairies, the flatlands, from Quebec, the Territories, the rain forest, the arctic, the mountains.. for defending their country, treaties, their homes, their families, their environment, their way of living, and their democracy against the government that was elected and tasked with doing so?

Governments are elected to protect us.. not assault us.. and the very environment that sustains us all.

I guess I'm old school and idealistic in holding to this idea ..

I'd like the question asked .. and answered

Owen Gray said...

I think the question was answered a couple of years ago, salamander, -- at the G20 Summit.

Clearly, Harper does not intend to be governed by laws, past agreements or parliamentary conventions. When asked how far he is prepared to go to get his way, his answer is the same as Pierre Trudeau's -- who for Harper was the Anti-Christ:

"Just watch me."